|Welsh: Merthyr Tudful|
Merthyr Tydfil’s coat of arms, with its motto: Nid cadarn ond brodyrdde (meaning "Not force but fellowship" in Welsh)
Merthyr Tydfil shown within Merthyr Tydfil
|OS grid reference|
|Principal area||Merthyr Tydfil|
|Ceremonial county||Mid Glamorgan|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Post town||MERTHYR TYDFIL|
|UK Parliament||Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney|
|Welsh Assembly||Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney|
Merthyr Tydfil (/ /; Welsh: Merthyr Tudful [ˈmɛrθər ˈtɨːdvɨ̞l]) is a town in Wales, with a population of about 30,000. Once the largest town in Wales, it is now the 14th largest urban area in Wales. It is in the historic county of Glamorgan, administered by Merthyr Tydfil County Borough. It is often referred to as 'Merthyr'.
According to legend, the town is named after Saint Tydfil, a daughter of King Brychan of Brycheiniog. According to her legend she was slain at Merthyr by pagans around 480; the place was subsequently named Merthyr Tydfil in her honour. Although the usual meaning of the word merthyr (from the Latin martyrium) in modern Welsh is 'martyr', it is probable that the meaning here is "church (in memory of a saint or on his/her grave)." Similar examples, all from south Wales, include Merthyr Cynog, Merthyr Dyfan and Merthyr Mawr. The Cornish and Breton language equivalents, in place names, are merther and merzher.
- 1 History
- 2 Industrial legacy
- 3 Open cast mining
- 4 Government
- 5 Religion
- 6 Culture
- 7 Tourism
- 8 Transport
- 9 Employment
- 10 Sports and leisure
- 11 Education
- 12 Notable people
- 13 References in art and literature
- 14 Twinnings
- 15 Notes
- 16 References
- 17 External links
Peoples migrating north from Europe had lived in the area for many thousands of years. The archaeological record starts from about 1000 BCE by the 'Celts' (although the 'Celtic Movement' may be seen as a gradual spreading of ideas rather than an invasion of a particular people). From their language, the Welsh language may have developed. Hillforts were built during the Iron Age and the tribe that inhabited them in the South Wales area were called the Silures, according to Tacitus, the Roman historian of the Roman invaders.
The Roman invasion
The Romans arrived in Roman Wales by about 47-53 CE and established a network of fortss, with roadss to link them. They had to fight hard to consolidate their conquests, and in 74 CE they built an auxiliary fortress at Penydarren, overlooking the River Taff (Taf). It covered an area of about three hectares, and formed part of the network of roads and fortifications: remains were found underneath the football ground where Merthyr Tydfil FC play. A road ran north–south through the area, linking the southern coast with Mid Wales and Watling Street via Brecon. Parts of this and other roads, including Sarn Helen, can be traced and walked.
The Silures resisted this invasion fiercely from their mountain strongholds, but the Romans eventually prevailed. In time, relative peace was established and the Penydarren fortress was abandoned by about 120 CE. This had an unfortunate effect upon the local economy, which had come to rely upon supplying the fortress with beef and grain, and imported items such as oysters from the coast. Intermarriage with local women had occurred and many auxiliary veterans had settled locally on farms.
With the Decline of the Roman Empire, Roman legions were withdrawn around 380 CE. By 402 CE, the army in Britain comprised mostly Germanic troops and local recruits, and the cream of the army had been withdrawn across to the continent of Europe. Sometime during this period, Irish Dalriadan (Scots) and Picts attacked and breached Hadrian's Wall. During the 4th and 5th centuries the coasts of Cambria (Wales) had been subject to the raids of Irish pirates, in much the same way as the south and east coasts of Britain had been raided by Saxon pirates from across the North Sea. Around the middle of the 5th century, Irish settlements had been established around Swansea and the Gower Peninsula and in Pembrokeshire and eventually petty kingdoms were establish as far inland as Brecon. By about 490 CE hordes of Saxons invaded and settled in the east or "lowland" Britain and the locals were left to their own devices to fight off these new invaders.
The coming of Christianity
The Latin language and some Roman customs and culture became established before the withdrawal of the Roman army. The Christian religion was introduced throughout much of Wales by the Romans, but locally it may have been introduced later by monks from Ireland and France, who made their way into the region following rivers and valleys.
Local tradition holds that a girl called Tydfil, daughter of a local chieftain named Brychan, was an early local convert to Christianity, and was pursued and murdered by a band of marauding Picts and Saxons while traveling to Hafod Tanglwys in Aberfan, a local farm that is still occupied. The girl was considered a martyr after her death in approximately 480AD. "Merthyr" translates to "Martyr" in English, and tradition holds that, when the town was founded, the name was chosen in her honour. A church was eventually built on the traditional site of her burial. Images of that church are on the Merthyr History website.
The Normans arrive
The valley through which the River Taff flowed was heavily wooded, with a few scattered farms on the mountain slopes, and this situation persisted for several hundred years. Norman barons moved in after the Norman Conquest of England, but by 1093 they occupied only the lowlands and the uplands remained in the hands of the local Welsh rulers. The effect on the locals was probably minimal. There were conflicts between the barons and the families descended from the Welsh princes, and control of the land passed to and fro in the Welsh Marches. During this time Morlais Castle was built a couple of miles north of the town.
Early modern Merthyr
No permanent settlement was formed until well into the Middle Ages. People continued to be self-sufficient, living by farming and later by trading. Merthyr was little more than a village. An ironworks existed in the parish in the Elizabethan period, but it did not survive beyond the early 1640s at the latest. In 1754, it was recorded that the valley was almost entirely populated by shepherds. Farm produce was traded at a number of markets and fairs, notably the Waun Fair above Dowlais.
The Industrial Revolution
Influence and growth of iron industry
Merthyr was close to reserves of iron ore, coal and limestone and to water, making it an ideal site for ironworks. Small-scale iron working and coal mining had been carried out at some places in South Wales since the Tudor period, but in the wake of the Industrial revolution the demand for iron led to the rapid expansion of Merthyr's iron operations. Neighbouring Dowlais Ironworks was founded by what would become the Dowlais Iron Company in 1759, making it the first major works in the area. It was followed in 1765 by the Cyfarthfa Ironworks. The Plymouth Ironworks were initially in the same ownership as Cyfarthfa, but passed after the death of Anthony Bacon to Richard Hill in 1788. The fourth ironworks was Penydarren built by Francis Homfray and Samuel Homfray after 1784.
Several railway companies established routes linking Merthyr with ports and other parts of Britain. They included the Brecon and Merthyr Railway, Vale of Neath Railway, Taff Vale Railway and Great Western Railway. They often shared routes to enable access to coal mines and ironworks through rugged country, which presented great engineering challenges. In 1804, the world’s first railway steam locomotive, "The Iron Horse", developed by the Cornish engineer Richard Trevithick, pulled 10 tons of iron on the new Merthyr Tramroad from Penydarren to Abercynon. A replica of this is in the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea. The tramway passed through what is arguably the oldest railway tunnel in the world, part of which can be seen alongside Pentrebach Road at the lower end of the town.
The 1801 census recorded the population of Merthyr as 7705, the most populous parish in Wales (the built-up area of Swansea, covering several parishes, exceeded 10,000). By 1851 Merthyr had overtaken Swansea to become the largest town in Wales, with 46,378 inhabitants. By this time, Irish immigrants made up 10% of the population, and there were substantial numbers of English, with some Spaniards and Italians. A Jewish community was established some time after 1841, and by 1851 they were able to establish a small prayer hall. The charming Merthyr Synagogue was consecrated in 1875 and a cemetery at Cefn-Coed was established in the 1860s.
During the first few decades of the 19th century, the ironworks at Cyfarthfa (and neighbouring Dowlais) continued to expand and at their peak were the most productive ironworks in the world. 50,000 tons of rails left just one ironworks in 1844, to enable expansion of railways across Russia to Siberia. The companies were mainly owned by two dynasties, the Guest and Crawshay families. The families supported the establishment of schools for their workers.
Thomas Carlyle visited Merthyr in 1850, writing that the town was filled with such "unguided, hard-worked, fierce, and miserable-looking sons of Adam I never saw before. Ah me ! It is like a vision of Hell, and will never leave me, that of these poor creatures broiling, all in sweat and dirt, amid their furnaces, pits, and rolling mills."
The Merthyr Rising
The Merthyr Rising of 1831 was precipitated by a combination of the ruthless collection of debts, frequent wage reductions when the value of iron periodically fell, and the imposition of truck shops. Some workers were paid in specially minted coins or credit notes, known as "truck", which could be exchanged only at shops owned by their employers. Many of the workers objected to both the price and quality of the goods sold in these shops.
Between 7,000 and 10,000 workers marched and for four days magistrates and ironmasters were under siege in the Castle Hotel, with the protesters effectively controlling the whole town. Soldiers, called in from Brecon, clashed with the rioters, and several on both sides were killed. Despite the hope that they could negotiate with the owners, the skilled workers lost control of the movement.
Several of the supposed leaders of the riots were arrested. One of them, Richard Lewis, popularly known as Dic Penderyn, was hanged for stabbing a soldier named Donald Black in the leg. Lewis became known as the first local working-class martyr.
Alexander Cordell's low-brow novel The Fire People is set in this period. A more serious political history of these events, The Merthyr Rising, was written by the Merthyr-born Marxist writer Professor Gwyn A. Williams in 1978.
The decline of coal and iron
The population of Merthyr reached 51,949 in 1861, but went into decline for several years thereafter. As the 19th century progressed, Merthyr's inland location became increasingly disadvantageous for iron production. Penydarren closed in 1859 and Plymouth in 1880; thereafter some ironworkers migrated to the United States or even Ukraine, where Merthyr engineer John Hughes established an ironworks in 1869.
In the 1870s the advent of coal mining to the south of the town gave renewed impetus to the local economy and population growth. New mining communities developed at Merthyr Vale, Treharris and Bedlinog, and the population of Merthyr rose to a peak of 80,990 in 1911. The growth of the town led to its grant of county borough status in 1908.
The steel and coal industries began to decline after World War I, and by the 1930s they had all closed. By 1932, more than 80% of men in Dowlais were unemployed; Merthyr experienced an out-migration of 27,000 people in the 1920s and 1930s, and a Royal Commission recommended that the town's county borough status should be abolished. The fortunes of Merthyr revived temporarily during World War II, as war-related industry was established in the area. In the post-war years the local economy became increasingly reliant on light manufacturing, often providing employment for women rather than men.
In 1987, the iron foundry, all that remained of the former Dowlais ironworks, finally closed, marking the end of 228 years continuous production on the site.
Post-Second World War
Immediately following the Second World War several large companies set up in Merthyr. In October 1948 the American-owned Hoover Company opened a large washing machine factory and depot in the village of Pentrebach, a few miles south of the town. The factory was purpose-built to manufacture the Hoover Electric Washing Machine, and at one point Hoover was the largest employer in the borough. Later the Sinclair C5 was built in the same factory.
Several other companies built factories, including the aviation components company Teddington Aircraft Controls, which opened in 1946 and closed in the early 1970s. The Merthyr Tydfil Institute for the Blind, founded in 1923, is the oldest active manufacturer in the town.
Cyfarthfa, the former home of the ironmaster William Crawshay II, an opulent mock-castle, is now a museum. It houses a number of paintings of the town, a large collection of artefacts from the town's Industrial Revolution period, and a notable collection of Egyptian tomb artefacts, including several sarcophagi.
In 1992, while testing a new angina treatment in Merthyr Tydfil, researchers discovered that the new drug had erection-stimulating side effects for some of the healthy volunteers in the trial study. This discovery formed the basis for Viagra.
Merthyr has a long and varied industrial heritage, and was one of the seats of the industrial revolution (see history below). Since the end of the Second World War, much of this has declined, with the closure of long-established near by coal mining collieries, and both steel and ironworks. Despite recent improvements, some parts of the town remain economically disadvantaged, and there is a significant proportion of the community who are long-term unemployed. Channel 4 programme rated Merthyr as the third-worst place to live in Britain in 2006, following areas of London.
In the 2007 edition of the same programme, Merthyr had `improved` to fifth-worst place to live.
Open cast mining
Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council is the governing body for the town and the County Borough, which streaches as far south as Treharris. The Member of Parliament for the Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney constituency is Dai Havard, and the Welsh Assembly member is Huw Lewis AM.
Merthyr was regarded as a nonconformist stronghold in the nineteenth century but the chapels declined rapidly from the 1920s onwards and most are now closed.
The town has held many cultural events. Local poets and writers hold poetry evenings in the town, and music festivals are organised at Cyfarthfa Castle and Park. With this in mind, Menter Iaith Merthyr Tudful (the Merthyr Tydfil Welsh Language Initiative) has successfully transformed the Zoar Chapel and the adjacent vestry building in Pontmorlais into a community arts venue, Canolfan Soar and Theatr Soar, which run a whole programme of performance events and activities in both Welsh and English, together with a cafe and book shop, specialising in local interest and Welsh language books and CDs. Also on Pontmorlais, Merthyr Tydfil Housing Association has recently been successful in a number of funding bids to develop the Old Town Hall into a new cultural centre, working in partnership with Canolfan a Theatr Soar to turn the Pontmorlais area into a cultural quarter. The Old Town Hall facility is to be launched on Saint David's Day 2014. With references to the 1831 Merthyr Rising and the building's red bricks, the venue is to be marketed as REDHOUSE - Hen Neuadd Y Dref / Old Town Hall. Merthyr Tydfil College's Myfanwy Theatre also holds occasional professional performances and provides opportunities for students to perform dance, musicals, plays, and instrumental and vocal concerts, and where students work with some of the best in the business, including members of the Welsh National Opera. Merthyr Tydfil Ladies' Choir, Cantorion Cyfartha, and the mixed-voice choir Con Voce often perform.
Merthyr has several historical and heritage groups:
The Merthyr Tydfil Heritage Regeneration Trust, which has as its aim - "To preserve for the benefit of the residents of Merthyr Tydfil and of the Nation at large whatever of the Historical, Architectural and Constructional Heritage may exist in and around Merthyr Tydfil in the form of buildings and artefacts of particular beauty or of Historical, Architectural or Constructional interest and also to improve, conserve and protect the environment thereto."
The Merthyr Tydfil Historical Society, which has as its aim - "To advance the education of the public by promoting the study of the local history and architecture of Merthyr Tydfil".
The Merthyr Tydfil Museum and Heritage Groups, which has as its aim - "To advance the education of the public by the promotion, support and improvement of the Heritage of Merthyr Tydfil and its Museums."
Merthyr's Central Library, which is in a prominent position in the centre of the town, is a Carnegie library.
Merthyr, like nearby Aberdare, is known for its thriving music scene. The town has produced several bands that have achieved national success, including The Blackout and Midasuno. Since 2011 the town has been the home of the Merthyr Rock Festival.
The town is in a South Wales Valleys environment just south of the Brecon Beacons National Park, and this, along with its rich history, means it has huge potential for tourism. National Cycle Route 8 passes through the town. The Brecon Mountain Railway is easily accessible by cycle and car.
Merthyr relies on a combination of public sector and manufacturing and service sector companies to provide employment. The Welsh Assembly Government has recently opened a major office in the town near a large telecommunications call centre(T-Mobile). Hoover (now part of the Candy Group) has its Registered Office in the town and remained a major employer until it transferred production abroad in March 2009, with the loss of 337 jobs after the closure of its factory.
Sports and leisure
Merthyr is widely recognised for its football team, Merthyr Town. 'The Martyrs' compete in the Evostick Southern Football League and play home games at Penydarren Park. The town was home to the professional Football League club Merthyr Town F.C., which folded in the 1930s; Merthyr Tydfil AFC was founded in 1945. In 1987 they won the Welsh Cup and qualified for the European Cup Winners' Cup. In the first round, they won 2–1 against Italian football team Atalanta in the first leg at Penydarren Park. However, the lost the return leg, losing 3-1 on aggregate. 2008 marked the centenary of football having been played at Penydarren Park. After going into liquidation in 2010, the club dropped down three divisions, reverted to the name of Merthyr Town and made Rhiw Dda’r their new home ground. Following promotion the club moved back to Penydarren Park in July 2011.
- Rugby union
- Rugby league
Merthyr is home to the Tydfil Wildcats Rugby League team, which played at The Cage in Troedyrhiw until September 2010. Merthyr Tydfil was one of the first rugby league sides in Wales in 1907 and beat the first touring Australian side in 1908.
Among those born in Merthyr are:
- Gareth Abraham — professional footballer
- Laura Ashley — fashion designer and retailer
- Des Barry — author
- Mario Basini — journalist, broadcaster and author
- William Berry, 1st Viscount Camrose — newspaper proprietor, and his brothers Seymour Berry (Baron Buckland) and James Gomer Berry, 1st Viscount Kemsley
- Jamie Bevan — Welsh language activist
- The Blackout — post-hardcore band
- Nathan Craze — professional ice hockey goaltender
- Richard Davies — actor
- Kevin Gall — professional footballer
- Sir Samuel Griffith — Australian politician
- Craig Handley — film director
- John Hughes — businessman
- Ciaran Jenkins — broadcaster and journalist
- Glyn Jones — poet
- Michael 'Micky' Jones (1942 – 10 March 2010) — guitarist, singer and songwriter with The Bystanders and Man
- John Edward Jones (governor) — American politician and the eighth Governor of Nevada
- William Ifor Jones — American conductor and organist
- Julien Macdonald — fashion designer
- Man — prog-rock band
- Leslie Norris — poet
- Geoffrey Olsen — artist
- Johnny Owen — boxer
- Jonny Owen — actor, broadcaster and producer
- Joseph Parry — composer
- Gustavius Payne — artist (painter)
- Mark Pembridge — Wales international football player
- Robert Sidoli — Welsh rugby international
- Rob Spragg — aka Larry Love — frontman (lead vocals) for Alabama 3
- Eddie Thomas — boxer
- Ian Watkins — ex-lead singer of Lostprophets
- Howard Winstone — boxer
- Penry Williams — artist (painter)
Other notable residents have included poet and author Mike Jenkins (his son Ceiran mentioned above) and daughter Plaid Cymru politician Bethan Jenkins, poet, journalist and Welsh Nationalist Harri Webb, General Secretary of the PCS trade union Mark Serwotka, poet, author and Welsh language activist Meic Stephens, poet, author and journalist Grahame Davies. Sam Hughes began his career as a noted player of the ophicleide in the Cyfarthfa Brass Band. One of the first two Labour MPs to be elected to parliament was the Scot Keir Hardie, for Merthyr Tydfil constituency.
Notable descendants of Merthyr include the singer-songwriter Katell Keineg, whose mother is a native of Merthyr; the "Chariots of Fire" athlete Harold Abrahams' mother Esther Isaacs; and the grandfather of Rolf Harris. The 1970s juvenile group The Osmonds have traced their ancestry to Merthyr.
References in art and literature
- Horatio Clare's retelling of one of the Mabinogion tales, The Prince's Pen (Seren) refers to Merthyr as being "declared an insurgent zone", and that people would refer to "'what happened at Merthyr' for years to follow".
- In the third episode of the 1978 BBC sitcom Going Straight, Merthyr is referred to as having ".. more pubs.. than anywhere else in Britain, and they're all shut Sundays."
- In Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series (set in an alternate history), begun in 2001, Merthyr is the capital of an independent People's Republic of Wales.
- Australian poet Les Murray references his experiences in the town in his poem, "Vindaloo in Merthyr Tydfil".
- Canadian songwriter Jane Siberry uses "the slags of Merthyr Tydfil" as an image in her song "You Don't Need", from the 1984 album No Borders Here.
- Wells, John (12 January 2010). "Merthyr". John Wells's phonetic blog. Retrieved 5 March 2010.
- Farmer, David Hugh. (1978). "Tydfil". In The Oxford Dictionary of Saints.
- University of Wales Dictionary, vol. III, page 2436.
- The Welsh Academy Encyclopedia of Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press 2008.
- James Anthony Froude, Thomas Carlyle: A History of his Life in London 1834-1881, Longmans, vol 2, 1855, p. 52.
- Staff (4 September 2007). "Blue wonder: Happy birthday Viagra". independent.co.uk. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
- "Firm's ringtone 'next Crazy Frog'". BBC News. 14 June 2006. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
- 'Third worst place in UK' — but Valleys town disputes claims — icWales
- "Ten reasons to love 'worst town'". BBC News. 10 August 2005. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
- Merthyr Tydfil: Best and Worst Places to Live in the UK 2006 from channel4.com
- "Merthyr named UK's house hotspot". BBC News. 16 October 2004. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
- "House price boom as market grows". BBC News. 8 August 2006. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
- "£19m for Merthyr-Cardiff trains". BBC News. 8 February 2007. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
- "Assembly building in valleys town". BBC News. 30 November 2006. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
- Merthyr Town promoted
- Match Report: Merthyr Town 1 – 9 Llanelli
- "Gareth Abraham". Post War English & Scottish Football League A - Z Player's Database. Retrieved 2012-09-29.
- "South East Wales Arts - Laura Ashley". BBC. Retrieved 2012-09-29.
- "Gareth Jamie Bevan, Man Who Trashed Conservative MP's Office Over S4C, Jailed". Huff Post Politics. Retrieved 29 September 2012.
- "Nathan Craze". hockeyDB.com. Retrieved 29 September 2012.
- "John Edward Jones". Find A Grave. Retrieved 29 September 2012.
- BBC — South East Wales Merthyr — Donny Osmond Coming Home
- "http://www.welshicons.org.uk/html/merthyr_tydfil1.php." Retrieved on 12 January 2012.
- "http://www.francemag.com/france-travel-travel-guide-and-information-twin-towns--211." Retrieved on 12 January 2012.
The population given as 38,000 is for the parishes around the town centre: the population of the County Borough at the 2011 census was 58,800.
- A Brief History of Merthyr Tydfil by Joseph Gross. The Starling Press. 1980
- The Merthyr Rising by Gwyn A Williams. University of Wales Press,
- The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press,
- People, Protest and Politics, case studies in C19 Wales By David Egan, Gomer 1987
- Cyfres y Cymoedd: Merthyr a Thaf, edited by Hywel Teifi Edwards. Gomer, 2001
- Civilizing the Urban: Popular culture and Urban Space in Merthyr, c. 1870-1914 by Andy Croll. University of Wales Press. 2000.
- Methyr Tydfil A.F.C. 1945-1954: The Glory Years By Philip Sweet. T.T.C. Books. 2008
- The Eccles, Antiquities of the Cymry; or The Ancient British Church by John Williams (1844), p116.
- Noteworthy Merthyr Tydfil Citizens by Keith L. Lewis-Jones. Merthyr Tydfil Heritage Trust 2008.mtht.co.uk
- Merthyr Historian volumes 1 - 21, Merthyr Tydfil Historical Society. mths.co.uk
- Old Merthyr Tydfil — Historical Photographs of Merthyr Tydfil.
- Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council
- BBC Merthyr Tydfil life
- Menter a Chanolfan Iaith Merthyr Tudful Welsh Language Initiative and Centre for Merthyr Tydfil
- www.geograph.co.uk : photos of Merthyr Tydfil and surrounding area
- Merthyr Tydfil Historical Society
- Merthyr Tydfil Heritage Regeneration Trust
- Article on Merthyr Tydfill in the Daily Telegraph
- Merthyr Tydfil at the Open Directory Project